On the 1st May 2014 I had the opportunity to be part of Impressions Gallery’s Feed Your Mind, which was an informal discussion on George Chakravarthi’s exhibition “Thirteen”. The discussion was led by Richard MacSween, lecturer in Shakespeare at the University of Bradford, and Impressions Gallery’s Learning Manager Sophie Powell. The exhibition itself features thirteen characters from Shakespeare’s plays that commit suicide in a variety of situations. Chakravarthi’s interpretations of these characters are mounted in light boxes in a dark gallery to create the atmosphere of a literary graveyard. Not only is suicide a connecting theme between each of these characters but the images themselves are of George Chakravarthi who transcends gender boundaries by becoming the character in each image. To quote from a participant of the discussion, the images feature “the same person treated in various ways as George works with himself as a character”.
Having heard George Chakravarthi speak of his exhibition earlier this year, it was insightful to gain an alternate perspective to the artworks. To begin with, an interesting point raised by Richard is whether Shakespeare himself used the word suicide – when did it come into language? Another member stated that the word came into use in 1643, which is of significance because attitudes towards suicide have changed over time. Hence, it was good to discuss George’s interpretation of suicide in a post 9-11 context and the way suicide is portrayed in Shakespeare’s plays. In the talk, however, it was noted how the images act as a resurrection of the characters who committed suicide.
The discussion then began to focus on individual images and what made them look like characters from Shakespeare. To develop this the clothing, textures and photographic layering were discussed in-depth to add to our understanding of George’s interpretations of the characters. In particular, Richard’s knowledge of the plays enabled us to understand how the characters in the light-boxes differentiate to those in Shakespeare’s plays. In particular the group was divided on the images of Romeo and Juliet. Although they are each placed in separate light boxes, George’s androgynous appearance, through clothing, body posture and facial expressions, in each of these images unify the two characters.
Romeo and Juliet are not the only two characters who have committed suicide in the same play, as there is also Mark Anthony and Cleopatra. Again the two characters are presented in different light boxes but there are subtle similarities between the images, which connect the two characters. The visual connection is the peacock feather, aptly pointed out by Richard himself. Yet, it was said that these visual connections are deliberately subtle to allow you to see how these characters stand on their own. Once more this adds to George’s interpretations of the plays and enables audience to engage with the image and develop their own interpretation of characters.
All in all this was an insightful and educational talk that taught me new things about the exhibition. To participate in a discussion with people from a variety of backgrounds and ages helped develop my knowledge on notable characters from Shakespeare’s plays and I am now intrigued to see what else George Chakravarthi has to offer as an artist.